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Monday, June 23, 2008

Summer Solstice 2008

Saturday 21st June, 6pm, Rathcroghan Co. Roscommon

A community celebration of the first (official!) day of Summer, hosted by the Cruachan Heritage Centre, took place on Saturday 21st June, the Summer Solstice.

Cruachan organized a procession and Fire performance display to entertain and educate, while respecting the importance and integrity of one of the oldest and best preserved of Celtic sites in Europe.

Considering the day's rain, there was a respectable number of attendees gathered in the car park off the main N5 Tulsk to Westport road, at 6pm. Families were very welcome, and it was lovely to see the interest of so many kids and teenagers. The ages ranged from a very excited 2 year old with a disturbingly accurate talent for wielding his plastic sword (ouch!), to a rather more solemn 16 year old who graciously consented to appear in full Gaelic garb.

On this day, the daytime hours are at a maximum, and darkness is at a minimum. In times gone by, communities gathered to celebrate the sun at its strongest on this day; in the hope that the light, heat and fiery influence would spread across the land and carry on through the coming months. It is officially the first day of summer, but is referred to as Midsummer because it is roughly the middle of the growing season throughout much of Europe.

Rathcroghan main mound is considered by archaeologists to have been a major assembly point, most probably used for ceremonial purposes, and is well known as the Celtic Royal site at the heart of ancient Connaught. Midsummer is one of the four Irish Quarter days that divide the official calendar. Many towns and cities have 'Midsummer Carnivals' with fairs, concerts and fireworks either on or on the weekend nearest to Midsummer. In some rural spots, bonfires are occasionally lit on hilltops.

Of course, there were no bonfires lit on this hilltop, but the torches carried by attendees were enough to lend the energy of live fire. This was even before the fabulous addition by Fran De'Venney, in full Gaelic warrior battle dress, of the 'Faol Lia' Performing Theatre Group.

Starting in the car park, attendees processed across the ground to the sound of a walking drumbeat and the chant of Samhradh - the Irish word for Summer. After the base of the mound was encircled, we entered by the Eastern indent, and circled the hill top twice Deiseal (clockwise, or 'sunwise' in the old literature) , ending in a loose ring around the central point.

From here, with his double ended fire staff ablaze and twirling, Fran encouraged the heat and life force of the sun at its height, represented by the Fire he wields, out to each of the four Provinces of Ireland. He made reference as Gaeilge to the traditional attributes of each, according to the literary source 'The Settling of the Manor at Tara' (Prosperity to the East, Wisdom to the West, Music to the South... substituting Warrior Courage for the too oft repeated Battle, to the North), and the ideal of Sovereignty and Kingship in the Centre. As the centre is wherever you are standing, and Cruachan has long held reputation as the sacred centre for the burial and inauguration of Kings (yes, even before Tara!), this all seemed particularly appropriate. As did leaving by the Western indent, trouping past the thistles and the sheep carcass that so horrified and yet delighted the children!

It was great to see enthusiastic community participation at a time and place that would have been such an important annual focal point to our ancestors. Also great was the fact that although we were blustered at and misted on, the deluges apparent countrywide over the height of summer weekend held off long enough for us to salute the sun. Hopefully it will herald more sun to come!


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